Plurals and Possessives of Movie Titles in Quote Marks

If you were writing for the news media or any publication that follows Associated Press style, you would put movie titles in quotation marks.

They watched “Casablanca.”

That’s different from most book publishing, which uses italics. And once you understand it’s just a style thing, that’s easy enough. But it can get harder.

For example, what if you wanted to make the movie title possessive?

“Casablanca”’s     ?

“Casablanca’s”    ?

What if you wanted to make it plural, say, envisioning a scenario in which there were two of the same film?

“Casablanca”s     ?

“Casablancas”     ?

Well, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that the style guides don’t say. The good news is that the style guides don’t say. That means that, while you can’t get it right. Technically, you can’t get it wrong, either.

And here’s some better news: I recently asked some fellow copy editors what they would do, and it turns out even professionals disagree on this one.

Well, actually, they all agreed on one thing: These unsightly constructions should be avoided whenever possible. Good editors recast sentences whenever they can to spare readers such visual assaults. But when it came to where to put a plural S or a possessive S and an apostrophe, they disagreed on whether it should be inside or outside the quotation marks.

I learned many years ago that the plural or possessive S goes inside the quotation marks. Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I learned it and, because I can’t find any documentation of it now, I suspect I was putting blind faith in a source that didn’t deserve it.

Still, the lesson stuck. So if you want my personal preference, it’s this: Put all that stuff before the closing quotation mark.

If only they had made two different “Casablancas.”

If there were two of the same film, then both "Casablancas'" lead actors would be famous.

"Casablanca's" actors were critically acclaimed.


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